How to House Train A Dog From A Shelter. A helpful & Useful Guide

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First, we would like to thank you for choosing to adopt your new best friend from a shelter. Too often, people pass up wonderful shelter dogs in favor of breeders, and these dogs are left without a home and sometimes euthanized due to overpopulation. 


We appreciate that you have chosen this path and know that you will enjoy your new buddy. You will make plenty of memories, and your experience can be that much more pleasant if you know how to train your pup. 


Doing so will make dog ownership better, and both of you will be wagging your tails!


How to House Train A Dog From A Shelter


Potty Training Basic Steps


Perhaps the most important part of your doggo’s new life at home is making sure she knows where the bathroom is. You might think this process is going to be impossible because your pet is an adult-not so! Let’s look at the steps for housetraining your dog.


  1. Bring your patience and your consistency. This is going to be critical. 
  2. Choose a spot. Take your pup outdoors to the same place every time she has to go. Her scent will be there, and she will understand this is the time and place to go to the bathroom. 
  3. Keep the time consistent. Much like you know when you have to “go” every day, so does your pup. Take her out just after she gets up as well as about 30 minutes after eating. Also, be sure to let her go just before bed. It may take some time before she “goes” but be sure to let your patience shine and let her have the time needed. 
  4. As you train, keep rooms closed off. Do not let your new dog go around the house until she is fully trained-she could accidentally go in a room and think of this place as a potty spot. Keep her restricted to, for instance, just the downstairs. 
  5. Watch for signals: Your dog may circle, sniff around intensely, or go back to a spot where she relieved herself in the past. If so, grab the lead and get her outdoors to the spot. 
  6. Offer praise. Once she goes in her “spot” offer a treat and some praise. You can also say words like “potty” or “poop” or even “toilet” as she goes so that way she associates it with going and will be prompted to do so upon hearing the word. 
  7. If an accident in the house does happen, clean it right away with a pet-friendly cleaner. Nature’s Miracle makes some good products.


Things To Avoid


Never, EVER punish your dog. She may become afraid of you and begin relieving herself in spots where she thinks you won’t notice.  You should absolutely avoid rubbing her nose in the waste. You should also not scold the animal for going inside the house. Instead, make some noise that will startle the dog and stop the elimination from happening. 


Once that has stopped, help your dog get outside and show her the potty spot. Once she finishes going, praise her and perhaps offer a treat. 


You should also avoid punishing your dog physically. Jerking the collar or hitting the dog with a rolled-up magazine is not the way to go. Understand that you did not notice the signals your dog was sending you, or perhaps you did not take her out during the scheduled times. If you instill fear surrounding elimination, the problem will only get worse. 


This makes elimination a positive experience, and she will not associate urination or defecation with a negative moment.


How to House Train A Dog From A Shelter


What If My Rescue Dog Had Incomplete House Training?


In some cases, dogs may not have been given adequate training, or perhaps something happened where their house training stopped and they did not fully master the skill. Rest assured you can work with your dog to make sure they learn to go outside in a spot that is appropriate. We even make use of this great program that aids in the housebreaking of dogs.


All the same basic rules apply to your dog that we discussed earlier. You will be patient and consistent, and offer lots of praise for your pet when she eliminates in the spot that is appropriate. 


Remember, dogs like to do their business in places away from their eating, sleeping and playtime spots. Therefore, work with your dog being consistent about taking her outside and rewarding her for going when and where you want her to. Treats and plenty of praise/pats are great ways to do this. 


You also have to be very diligent about your dog in the house. She may want to go in there as it is a place of comfort to her. Therefore, it is up to you as the owner to make sure you watch for all those warning signals we talked about earlier: circling, sniffing, pawing at the ground.  If you notice even a hint of these signs, take your dog outside on the lead to the potty spot and encourage them to go, giving them time to do so. 


Then offer praise and a small treat. With consistency, you will find that your dog will tell you when she is ready to go. Many dogs, for instance, paw at the door. 


Could Crate Training Help? (See crates on Amazon)


How to House Train A Dog From A Shelter



Dogs like smaller spaces as it helps them feel secure. However, you should keep crate time to a minimum and never use it as a punishment. It is, however, a great way of helping dogs be on their best behavior, as they like to keep places where they rest, eat and sleep-with-her-eyes-open-here-is-the-answer/” title=”sleep”>sleeps-on-his-back-what-is-the-reason/” title=”sleep”>sleep clean. 


This will help your dog learn to “hold it” during times when they cannot go. Be sure you avoid putting newspapers or blankets inside the crate as your dog may be tempted to eliminate these items. 


The crate should only be a place of comfort and security, and you should never force your dog inside. The crate should always be placed in a spot where the dog can see and interact with everybody in the household, such as the living room, kitchen or den so she can interact with the rest of her “wolf-pack”.  Always be sure you remove her collar so there are no choking hazards, and place a toy or two in there for added relaxation. 


Properly crate training your dog can provide her a safe space to relax and learn to “hold it” while you are away for short periods of time.


Are There Medical Issues Involved? 


Even if, after repeated training, your dog still finds it pertinent to eliminate indoors, it is worthwhile that you rule out any medical issues that might be at play. Be sure you take your dog to the vet and ask them about any health factors that might play into your dog’s behaviors.  Some common ones include: 


Gastrointestinal Issues-If you are finding that your once-housetrained dog eliminates stools that are loose in nature or experiences diarrhea in the house, this may be a sign of gastrointestinal issues.


Dietary Modifications-Have you changed up the food your dog eats? Perhaps she has new food due to medical reasons or because it was something you thought she might like. New food can cause diarrhea or loose stools. Your dog may have a need to “go” on a more frequent basis or at different times. 


Incontinence-A dog may leak just as humans do after certain medical conditions or procedures. Dogs with this issue usually do not realize what they have done. They may even eliminate during sleep. Some issues associated with canine incontinence include UTIs, hormone issues after being spayed, kidney diseases, genital abnormalities or Cushing’s disease, to name a few causes. 


Indeed, it is worthwhile to see a vet so that you can rule out any of these issues as the cause for any trouble with elimination. 


Environmental Factors Related To Elimination


How to House Train A Dog From A Shelter


Depending on where your rescue dog grew up as a puppy, this can have an impact on where they will eliminate. Your adult dog will gravitate to surfaces they used when they were a puppy aged about 6 to 10 weeks old. For many dogs, they will use someplace outdoors. A dog that grew up in the city will likely want to use the pavement. Most dogs will look for the grass or even some dirt where they can go. 


However, dogs that grew up indoors-such as kennels or shelters, may display a very adverse reaction to using “normal” surfaces like grass or pavement. This is a good opportunity for you as the owner to be patient, consistent and kind as you show her the right place to go.


You can even work with her by providing a small spot where she can go in the right place but with the surface she desires. For instance, a city dog might like a small slab of concrete placed out in the backyard. Some old tiles in the backyard that mimic a kennel floor may be helpful. 


Some adopted dogs may also have a fear of going outside, thanks to their new environment. Dogs that move from the city to the country and vice versa may feel so overwhelmed about going in their new places that they simply have trouble going outside. 


However, you can help. Let your dog go outside and explore around with her. You can take her to a park and calmly help her walk around and realize outside is not a bad place to be at all. And although it may be a bit of a strange-and-hiding-a-unique-and-helpful-guide/”>strange request, ask a friend for dog urine from one of their dogs. You can pour it in the place you want your dog to go, and this may trigger her to “go.”


Helpful Products 


We would like to start by saying that you should avoid ammonia-based cleaners when it comes to cleaning up dog accidents in the house. Instead, stick with natural products that get rid of smells and prevent her from coming back. 


Some great ones you can buy are Nature’s Miracle, which uses enzymes to get rid of odors in a natural and safe way, or Rocco & Roxie brand stain and odor eliminator. (The latter also works for cats, too!) Each of these cleaners is safe for use around pets and reasonably priced. Plus, they smell great, too. 




Persistence, patience, and a consistent schedule of training is the way to go. Spending a good chunk of time with your pet now will make for healthy habits your dog will carry with her throughout life. Stick with it and before you know it, she will be going all on her own.

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